Summary of Down to Earth: 31st March 2018 (Part - 1) (Download PDF)


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World Of Cape Towns - Theewatreskloof Dam, Cape Town’s largest reservoir, has dries to just 13 % capacity after 3 years of drought. Cape Town is on notice that the day when its water will run out is very close.

Cape Towns in India

February 2018 Supreme Court (SC) decision on allocation of Cauvery water provided closure to an age-old conflict.

On February 16, Supreme Court reduced allocation of Cauvery water to be released by Karnataka from its reservoirs from 192, 000 million cubic feet to 177, 250 million cubic feet at inter-state border of Biligundulu.

Principles of Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal

  1. One-third of the city fell within the Cauvery-Basin and so, only one-third of its water demand would be met from the river.

  2. Ground water replenished by natural recharge, stream flow and through lakes and reservoirs would meet 50 % of city’s water demand. Only 50 % would be allocated from the river.

  3. City’s water demand to be calculated only at 20%. 80 % of water that is demanded and supplied is discharged as waste. The city needs to plan to treat and clean the sewage water, make it usable.

SC order

  1. Cities like Bengaluru deserve more water regardless of their location, asserting that cities have the ‘right’ to trans-boundary water supply.

  2. The city to first use its local water resources and the deficit to be met by the imported and transported Cauvery Water.

    Transportation of Cauvery Water is making water so costly that more and more people are switching to ground water. Bengaluru has not gained from its allocation.

  3. SC has upheld the third principle.

Chennai, the other metropolis, on the other end of Cauvery, complains that Bengaluru is not giving water, but gives sewage.

The SC has said that drinking water to get highest priority in terms of allocation, though in India a vast number of people in rural area depend on agriculture for their employment.

Cape Town, Bengaluru, and Chennai all have a common present.

Millets can Improve More Than Nutrition

  • Some tribal communities in major millet growing states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telangana cultivate pearl millet, ragi, and kodo millet to support themselves, cultivated in limited scale in hilly areas.
  • The area under millet cultivation has diminished from 0.4 % to 0.2%, in spite of increase in demand of millet crops. Under nourishment and malnourishment in tribal can be reduced by mixing millet flour with nutritious grains to improve palatability and taste.
  • West Africa, pearl millet is the major crop, contribute to food security in hunger and famine –prone regions.
  • The need of hours is to
  1. Rejuvenate seed banks
  2. Provide seeds
  3. Improve but cost effective cultivation practices, technology to farmers
  4. Inclusion of millets in Public distribution System (PDS).
  • Pilots on including millets in the Integrated Child Development Scheme have been launched in 2 districts. Government plans to include millets in PDS and other Special Needs Plans to understand the issue of supply, demand and acceptance.

Solar Finds Solace:

  • The Union Renewable energy ministry has issued a list of penalties for project developers who pass off imported products as domestically made ones. The government could file criminal case against developers who violate Domestic Content requirement Policy, 2010, blacklist them for 10 years and forfeit their bank guarantee.
  • Cheap imported products were the main reason for the unit price of solar power falling to Rs. 2.44, according to analysts.

India Slips 2 ranks in Corruption List:

  • India slipped two ranks in the Corruption Perceptions Index, 2017, from 79th slot in 2016 to 81 in a list of 180 countries. This index is released by Transparency International, a global watch dog.
  • New Zealand and Denmark are the most corrupt free nations.
  • India, Philippines and Maldives are named among the ‘worst regional offenders’ in terms of corruption and press freedom where there are higher number of journalist deaths.
  • Over two thirds of countries score below 50. (a scale with 0 as highly corrupt to 100 as very clean). China at 77th and Bhutan 67th did better than India.

CO may make antibiotics resistant gain:

  • Carbon Monoxide may significantly improve the effectiveness of antibiotics.
  • The gas is toxic at high concentration, is known to have therapeutic properties such as reducing inflammation and increasing antimicrobial effects
  • The researchers paired CO with antibiotic metronidazole and found its effect had improved by 25 times, on Helicobacter pylori (bacteria causing peptic ulcer). Drug resistance means decreased sensitivity, meaning smaller amount of antibiotic needed.

In Court:

  • Delhi High Court: February, 26: Excluding people with genetic disorders from obtaining health insurance or denying their claims is discriminatory and violates a citizen’s right to health.
  • Bombay High Court: February 22: Bombay High Court issued notices to Centre and State government and state coastal Zone management authority relating to construction of proposed Shivaji memorial statue off the Arabian Sea over environmental clearance given to the project.
  • Levels of toxic ammonical nitrogen in the Yamuna exceeds the safe standard at almost all locations, it passes through Haryana, Palla and Delhi.
  • Supreme Court: February 15, Centre and states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh and another 4 states, to file special affidavits that they were bound by 1980 award of Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal, which adjudicated river water utilization disputes among basin sates of Krishna and Godavari
  • Karnataka High Court: February 22: Seeks report from Centre and State Governments regarding removal of manual scavenging and implementation of Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.

Total cases of on environment and development from January 1 2018 to February 22, 2018 are

  • Supreme Court – 18
  • High Courts – 16
  • National Green Tribunal – 53

Bombay High Court on February asked Maharashtra Police to book cases against politicians Parshuram Mhatre and Anita Patil for destroying mangroves in Mira Bhayender municipality in Thane District. The decision was given by Justice SC Dharamadhikari, and Justice Bharat I Dangre. The public interest petition was filed by Bharat Mokal in 2015.

Adani Coal Mine Hits Roadblock again

  • Adani Company has agreed that it would fail to meet March 31 deadline to arrange US $2.3 million for its Carmichael coal mine in Australia. Raising money for the venture was a challenge due to decline in global coal markets and protests by environmental groups.
  • The Queensland government vetoed a plan to give $700 million loan to Adani for a rail line to connect mine to a port near Great Barrier Reef.

Arctic Sea

  • For the first time, Eduard Toll, loaded with liquefied natural gas from Siberia, travelled Arctic’s northern sea route without the help of ice-breaking ships.
  • The temperatures at the Arctic are increasing at a two times rate as compared to the rest of the world.
  • The thickness of ice in Arctic Ocean was 304.8 cm formed over multiple winters, but now the thickness is 91 cm. because of melting sea or ice being flushed out of Arctic to lower latitudes.
  • According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 20 % of Arctic sea ice was compromised older and thicker ice as September 2017. In 1985 there was 45 % of Arctic sea ice.

Corporate Favored Over Rural India

  • An analysis of last 7 union budgets by ‘Media for Change’ has found that indirect subsidy also known as tax expenditure (refers to special taxes, exemptions, deductions, rebates, deferrals and credits) given to corporate taxpayers in 2017 - 18 was 60 % of expenditure incurred in that year by agriculture and rural development ministries put together, and the subsidy has been increasing.
  • Other tax incentives to non-corporate tax payers and tax breaks and rebates on customs duty and central excise duty surpasses total expenditure of agriculture and rural development departments by a big margin.

Tigers Face Extinction in Asia

  • Only 13 % of tiger conservation areas across Asia meet global standards and over a third were not safe for the tigers. This was findings of Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CATS) – a partnership between 13 tiger rage countries, non-profits and conservation standards agreed under St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation to arrest decline in wild tiger numbers. There are only 3900 tigers left, plan to double it by 2022.
  • Basic needs such as enforcement against poaching, engaging local communities and managing conflict between people and wildlife were weak in all areas. 85 % of areas do not have staff capacity to patrol sites and 61 % of areas in south east Asia have limited anti-poaching enforcement.

1 Million seeds on Noah’s Ark

  • 26 February 2018, was 10 anniversary of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at Norway, known as “Noah’s Ark “, seeks to protect world’s crop from natural disasters and attacks, has gathered over a million varieties.
  • The Global Seed vault is located deep inside a mountain on Svalbard, a remote Arctic island and has a capacity to store 4.5 billion seeds.
  • Norway plans to upgrade it by spending $13 million to upgrade, including construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel, as well as service building to house emergency power and refrigerating units and electrical equipment that emits heat in the tunnel.
  • The varieties including staples such as rice, wheat, potato would be available to government following a global crisis like nuclear war or climate change.

The Great Brain Robbery

  • 2016 World Alzheimer’s Report says over 47 million people globally are in the grip of Alzheimer. With large number of people living longer across the world, Alzheimer’s is expected to strike three times as many by 2050, surpassing cancer as the second leading cause of death after heart disease.
  • In India, more than 4 million are affected by Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia, making India third highest bearer after China and US.
  • The disease has no treatment, not even and insight of it.
  • An Alzheimer’s patient is under siege from rapidly multiplying rogue proteins, in a matter of few years kill the brain nerve cells. As neurons die, the patient suffers with wild mood-swings, disorientation, short-term memory lapses and unable to recognize some faces for example.
  • It afflicts more women than men, or some communities, like Icelanders have a natural defence against it or particular clan of 5, 000 Colombians are usually vulnerable to it, suggesting that some genetic mutations might be behind it. It accounts for 70 % of all forms of dementias.

Alzheimer’s ancient vintage

  • Its victims were regarded a stupid person or a person showing the weakness or disease of old age.
  • It was common to treat such people by “trepanation”, a technique that involved drilling holes into the skull to dispel evil spirits. In the beginning of the 19th century, the French physician Phillipe Pinel coined the word ‘dementia’ to describe mental illnesses, that such patients suffer from a disease.
  • In 1906, a German psychiatrist called Alois Alzheimer described for the first time the characteristic symptoms—plaques, tangles and reduced brain-size—so the name ‘Alzheimer ’.
  • Sigmund Freud’s ideas about human nature and behaviour at the time that his proposition that dementia might be rooted in biology was not accepted, but was reaffirmed in 1970s by more advanced imaging techniques.
  • In 1991, British geneticist John Hardy proposed plaques of a renegade protein called beta amyloid as reason for Alzheimer. Many researchers and pharma companies rushed to develop molecules that could kill the plaques or a temporary relief for the disease. All the clinical trials were a failure.
  • Pharma company Pfizer, recently abandoned its quest for Alzheimer’s drug.

With the amyloid hypothesis in doubt, new theories that came up are:

  • The tau hypothesis claim that it is the twisted tangles of a protein called tau that eventually strangles a neuron from within, thus triggering Alzheimer’s

  • The “Type III diabetes” hypothesis suggests that a gene called APOE4 deprives the brain of the blood sugar vital for keeping the neurons going.

  • A third theory says that Alzheimer’s is triggered when plaques and tangles provoke brain’s immune cells called microglia to turn against itself

  • Pathogen hypothesis which proposes that some microbes might be reason for Alzheimer’s.

Key Points of Alzheimer

  • Some scientists believe that usage of turmeric in India might explain the alleged resistance of Indians to Alzheimer’s.

  • Sugar, which many suspect of being a complicit for Alzheimer

  • Solving puzzles and learning new skills, would keep Alzheimer away.

2015 study at the University of California, Los Angeles, a small group of Alzheimer’s patients were put through a customized regimen of diet (more veggies), exercise, meditation, and better sleeping techniques, and they performed better in memory and problem solving tests.

Learning the Ropes

  • Tirunelveli, 600 km from Chennai, received accolades in its home state of Tamil Nadu and even at the national level for its waste segregation efforts.
  • Similarly, Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, 400 km from Bhopal with a population of about 84, 000, has been undertaking steps by managing waste better.
  • A team from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, travelled to both cities in November 2017 to understand their waste handling and treatment systems.


  • Tirunelveli has undertaken various waste segregation initiatives and has been praised by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the US Green Building Council.
  • Mixed litter comprising organic materials, paper, low-value plastics, domestic hazardous and inert waste is being dumped in the Ramyanpatti Compost Yard, an old landfill on the outskirts that has been converted into a waste management processing site, no composting takes place.
  • The site has been capped in a scientific manner by a company called Zonta Infratech. There is widespread burning of waste at the site.
  • Plastic is collected once a week, which is almost 9 - 10 tonnes a week. The municipal corporation has installed a plastic pelletisation plant in the yard.
  • Siva Sivasubramanian, launched a campaign called Litter-Free Tirunelveli or lift in December 2016 when he was Tirunelveli’s municipal commissioner.
  • Under LIFT, it was decided that collection of dry waste would take place on Wednesdays and that of wet waste on the other days in all 55 wards. The city passed its by-laws in compliance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, and collects user charges accordingly.
  • Around 178, 000 households hand over segregated plastic waste to some 300 waste collectors, there is no segregation or safe disposal of glass, metal or other dry waste.
  • Lift puts pressure on the bulk generators to segregate their waste at source and treat it in a decentralised manner.
  • The need of the hour is to set up a system that supports segregation of all waste streams to ensure they are channelized properly

Balaghat: Setting an Example

  • Balaghat: On the banks of river Wainganga and in between teak forests of Kanha National Park and Pench Tiger Reserve.
  • After attending a training programme by the CSE, officials kicked off their pan-city solid waste management efforts like total door-to-door collection of waste and generating awareness on segregation of waste.
  • Women volunteers studying in colleges campaign door-to-door. The municipal corporation conducts composting of horticulture waste in parks and garden areas where it has also erected signboards to increase awareness.
  • The residents segregate wet and dry waste and the collection vehicles plays Swachh Bharat song or blow a whistle as a signal. Plastic waste is collected separately in a gunny bag.
  • Waste collectors are trained as its crucial for them to understand how to collect and transport the segregated waste.
  • The dumping sites have been transformed into material recovery facility, where the waste is segregated second time, second time segregation has increased the segregation from 15 - 20 % to 80%.
  • The recyclable waste earned the municipality Rs. 25, 000 and the sanity workers create compost from the wet waste.
  • Recyclable plastic is collected and sold to scrap dealer, while plans to use the non-recyclable waste to make refuse-derived fuel is being developed.
  • The city is trying to tackle solid waste pollution by promoting biodegradable sanitary napkins and using buried waste from the site to make a kachha road.
  • Balaghat does not have a separate sanitation unit in its municipality, the health division of the urban local body is making these efforts.

Barriers to Harvest Bamboo

  • Union government amended the Indian Forest act, 1927 in November last year by categorizing bamboo as a grass and not as a tree, to help poor communities to legally harvest and trade bamboo for livelihood.
  • On February 21, in Udaipur district, Rajasthan, 16 villages, launched a bamboo satyagraha, after the local administration refused to give permission to cut bamboo.
  • Amiwara, a village has around 30, 000 bamboo culms which can fetch around Rs. 2 lakh, harvesting would bring money for village development, but also prevent bamboo intrusion into fields.
  • Though Amiwara finally got permission, the other 15 villages are awaiting approval.
  • The historic amendment says: “The farmers are facing hardships in getting the permits for felling and transit of bamboos within the State and also for outside the State, which has been identified as major impediment of the cultivation of bamboos by farmers on their land… Hence, it was decided to amend… the said Act so as to omit the word “bamboos” from the definition of tree, in order to exempt bamboos grown on non-forest area from the requirement of permit for felling or transit”
  • But the states have their set of rules, which they follow.
Image of Weeds in the grass

Image of Weeds in the Grass

Image of Weeds in the grass

Courtesy: Down to Earth, March 2018

- Published/Last Modified on: April 12, 2018


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